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Cel Welch

Brown University, Stanford University

Cel Welch wasn’t a straight-A student growing up, but they absolutely killed the science fair. At age 12, they decided they were going to build something completely novel: Forget about the plant-watering experiments and mini-volcanoes. 

Their parents were always yelling at the family dog for tracking mud in the house, so Welch designed a pair of dirt-resistant socks for canines. Unfortunately for Welch, the narrow-minded science fair judges disqualified the socks as “not science.” Fortunately for society, the incident set Welch on the path to becoming a biomedical engineer.  

“It’s not just like, let me build this rocket because rockets are cool,” Welch said. “It’s like, oh, there’s this problem. How can I solve that problem?”

Welch specializes in devices that interact with the human body at a cellular level. While getting their Ph.D. at Brown, they built devices that were able to dissociate single cells from cancer tissues. This work could lead to improved cancer diagnostics down the line.

In February, Welch will start as a postdoctoral researcher in Zhenan Bao’s Stanford engineering lab, developing flexible and stretchable materials that resemble human skin. They’ll be exploring a wide range of uses for these materials, from mental health monitoring to healing wounds. 

Bringing cutting-edge scientific discoveries to patients who need them is Welch’s ultimate goal. They want to translate their work, whether in the world of cellular diagnostics or electronic wearables, into commercialized products. Why build a rocket when there are dirty dogs desperately in need of clean socks? 

“It’s really important that we’re not just engineering for the sake of engineering, but we’re actually creating devices that can improve the world and specifically improve human health,” Welch said.

— Lizzy Lawrence